Sunday, 25 September 2022

Lancing Beach Green parkrun

Lancing is a village which lies on the south coast of England with the county of West Sussex. The name is made up of either Hlanc (lank or lean) or Wlanc (proud or imperious) plus the 'ing' which means 'people of'. So you end up with either the 'people of Hlanc' or 'people of Wlanc'. There is evidence of settlements in the area going back to the Iron Age, but from the 1800s the area was mostly used for growing flowers and fruit, which were then transported to Brighton or London to be sold at markets. During this period it was also a popular resort for the gentry.

In 1911, Shoreham Airport opened within the parish and is still in operation to this day, it is now also known as Brighton City Airport, and is one of the oldest airports in the country - possibly also the world's oldest continually operated airport. Imports of fresh fruit from around the world made life difficult for the fruit farmers in Lancing, leading to the land being sold off for housing developments during the post-WW2 period between 1945 and 1970. The population steadily grew and the present-day population is around 18,000.

Down at the seafront there is a shingle beach and over 275 beach huts. The huts are privately owned, with plots being allocated by Lancing Parish Council, but only to local residents. You'll also find Beach Green which is an open area of grassland in between the main road and the sea which contains a children's play area and a BMX/skate park. The Beach Green area is available for hire and you'll quite often find funfairs, circuses, and markets on-site. There's even the Lancing Motor Show which I understand takes place in September or October.

During the second world war large concrete blocks called 'dragons' teeth' were installed along the seafront as an anti-tank measure to protect against a possible Nazi land invasion. When the war finished they were due to be removed, however this never happened and the majority of them were buried under Beach Green. There is one still in situ with an information board telling the story along with some old photos. The green also has a beacon which was lit as part of the Queen's platinum jubilee in 2022. As of August 2018 Beach Green is home to Lancing Beach Green parkrun.

We visited Lancing in September 2022 to take part in Lancing Beach Green parkrun's 127th event. For those that drive there are a couple of parking options. The most obvious of these is the spacious Lancing Beach Car Park - this is right next to the parkrun meeting point and costs £1 for up to two hours or £4 for the full day and has a height restriction of 2.1 metres. The other option would be to look for a space on one of the residential side streets on the opposite side of the main road which would of course avoid paying the parking fee.

Travel by train is possible and Lancing train station can be found about 1km away from the parkrun meeting point. The station is served by both Thameslink and Southern trains - some run direct from London while others require a change at nearby Brighton. Trains from the other direction seem to run from either Portsmouth or Southampton via Chichester. For bicycle users there are some bike racks on Beach Green which are located just outside a refreshments hut next to the shingle beach. There are also toilets available and these are located on the western side of Beach Green - I understand they officially open at 9am, however they were open before 8.30am when we visited.

The meeting point for the parkrun is on the open grass of Beach Green just next to the car park (you can't miss it). As with all parkruns you will find a first-timers briefing followed by a main briefing and then at 9ish the participants head off for their regular Saturday morning 5 kilometre run or walk. The course here at Lancing consists of two separate out-and-backs on a mixture of grass and concrete. The course is flat and road shoes would likely always be the first choice. Participants with buggies will be just fine here.

The first of the out-and-backs is the shorter of the two. It covers the first 700 metres of the course and takes place on Beach Green itself - being on the green, the surface underfoot is of course grass. This is quite handy as it helps to spread out the field before the course moves onto the main seafront path. Although I said the course is flat there is a slight incline in between the grass section and the main coastal path. Once on the seafront path the main things to bear in mind are that parkrunners are asked to keep to the right. The path is also part of the National Cycle Network route 2 so be sure to keep an eye out for approaching cyclists.

The section on the coastal path heads to the east for just over two kilometres before reaching the turn-around point and heading back. While on the path, parkrunners pass numerous beach huts of many different styles and colours. During the out section there's a good view along the south coast where the Shoreham Power Station chimney is clearly visible. Plus you can even see all the way into Brighton and Hove where the British Airways i360 observation tower can clearly be seen in the far distance. At the far end of the path is the Widewater Lagoon - a man-made area of brackish water which is home to many seabirds and other wildlife. 

The finish is back on the grass in the same location as the start. Barcode scanning takes place here and the post-parkrun social gathering takes place in the Perch Cafe which has plenty of seating inside and out, and also seems to have a fairly extensive menu. We didn't go in as we had brought breakfast with us and instead hung out in the playground with the kids. I had used my Garmin to record the route and that can be viewed on my Strava account. I also transferred the file to the Relive app where it created a fly-by video of the course. This can be found on my YouTube account.

The results were soon published and 204 people had taken part in event 127. This was higher than usual as the nearby Worthing parkrun (blog7t write-up) was cancelled. On a regular week the event would attract just over 100 people.

If visiting please remember to check carefully for cancellations, as when the green is booked for an event it usually seems to result in parkrun cancelling. As you'd expect the summer is particularly popular and to put this into perspective, Lancing Beach Green parkrun only took place on 3 out of the 9 Saturdays in July and August 2022. Finally a big thanks to all of the volunteers that looked after us during our visit.

Related links:

My GPS data of the course (24 September 2022)
The Relive course fly-by video (24 September 2022)

Sunday, 4 September 2022

Edenbrook Country parkrun

In the north-east corner of Hampshire you will find the town of Fleet which is covered by Hart District Council. The area where the town sits had originally been flat, open, tree-less, common land on which local people had grazed cattle. The name Fleet comes from the French word La Flete which I'm lead to believe means 'shallow pond' and had been a small settlement in the 1700s. During the 19th century, the Enclosure Act placed common land such as this into the hands of local landowners, this, of course, made most of the area off-limits. It stayed that way until 1878 when a large area of enclosed land was auctioned. The newly acquired land was divided into plots and sold to prospective house builders and individuals, which accelerated the growth of the town.

edenbrook country park / hart leisure centre

In the late 1990s the Berkeley Group (a house building company, formerly known as Berkeley Homes) applied for permission to build new houses on the western edge of Fleet. In 2006 permission to build the new homes was granted and this included the development of a sports centre and a country park. The newly created community was given the name Edenbrook Village and the 24 hectare country park took the name of Edenbrook Country Park. The park features woodlands, wetlands and meadows, plus contains 4.7km of footpaths, bat roosts, bird hide, picnic areas, a BMX pump bike track, mountain bike track, community gardens and an amphitheatre.

On 23 April 2022 the park became home to Edenbrook Country parkrun, a 5km walking and running event which takes place every Saturday at 9am. At the time of writing the event is still in its trial period, so it is crucial for the future of the event that we follow the guidance issued by the team and do not upset any other park users or neighbouring residents (the same goes for all parkruns, of course). We visited and took part in their 20th event on a dry and sunny morning on 3 September 2022. We used the car and we were fortunate to have no issues with traffic on the M25 or M3 (it was a different story on the way home!).

main briefing and start

The parking for this event is free-of-charge and there are multiple options - firstly the country park has its own parking facilities, however this car park is pretty small so cannot accommodate everyone. Fortunately the Hart Leisure Centre is right next door and has ample space - the parking here is free for up to three hours (check the procedure with the centre if staying for longer - you may need to do provide your registration number at the main reception to avoid getting a fine). Please bear in mind that it is requested that parkrunners use the far back section of the leisure centre car park and that we do not park on the adjacent residential roads (failure to adhere to this may lead to permission to hold the event being withdrawn).

For travel by train the nearest station is Fleet which is on the South West Railway line that runs between London Waterloo and Basingstoke. Fleet Station is approximately 3.8 kilometres away from the park. I'm not aware of any buses that run to the park. The leisure centre also has lots of bicycle racks and is the location of the toilets (I hear you can also use their showering facilities for £1.10 per person). The meeting point for the parkrun is at the entrance to the country park which is just a few metres from the leisure centre's main entrance. The parkrun first-timers briefing followed by the main briefing are held around this area just before 9am and once complete the morning's assembled parkrunners are sent off for their morning walk, jog or run around the park.

around the course

The current course here at Edenbrook Country Park is a 'two-lap with a start/finish tail' configuration, is run in an anti-clockwise direction and is flat. It was described as a lollipop-style course when we visited, but it has quite a short stick section. Underfoot you will find a selection of gravel paths with varying sized aggregate to negotiate. The gravel is fairly compact but the top layer is loose and I found that a few tiny stones managed to get inside my road shoes. Trail shoes may have been a better option as they tend to offer better protection against this kind of unwanted intrusion. However I imagine most people will be happy enough in road shoes around this course. There is a note on the official course page which says the course is liable to flooding (the park is a flood plain) and if it does the event may be cancelled, so be sure to check the official social media channels before travelling, especially during wetter periods.

The course follows paths which are a standard width all the way around and this includes the start, so the first section is likely to be quite congested. To try to help everyone to get away smoothly the team has 'estimated finish time' markers where participants can self-seed in order to help keep things orderly. The opening section is tight with bushes or fences on either side of the path. There are initially no grass verges to spread out onto, and even when a grass verge does appear there are very clear signs instructing participants to 'keep off the grass'. This opening section is about 400 metres long and meanders around in a very pleasing way until it reaches the beginning of the two lap section.

around the course

The lap (the sweet part of the lollipop) is negotiated in an anti-clockwise direction and participants are requested to keep to the right hand side. This is due to the course featuring a couple of sections where participants run in both directions along the same bit of path. The great thing about this is that it makes for a very social event and no matter where you are in the field you are never too far away from a fellow parkrunner. I'm pleased to say I saw and heard plenty of waves and encouragement between participants all the way around the course. It is very well marked out with arrows and cones so the chances of taking a wrong turn are very slim, plus there are the wonderful marshals dotted around the course at key points (thank you).

The country park sits on land which was previously 'low-grade farmland', but this has been transformed into a place which is suitable for the needs of a variety of wildlife. It is also now part of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area plus it is also a Suitable Alternate Green Space (SANG). The scenery is lovely and is largely made up of a selection of meadows and ponds, plus the River Hart flows through the park. It's a tributary of the River Whitewater and is not very wide, it's more like a stream and the parkrun course passes over it a few times.

around the course / the dragon and the 'happy to chat' bench

Quite a few of the park benches and notice boards are carved and contain depictions of local wildlife, seeds and leaves. One of the benches I saw was engraved with the words 'Happy to chat bench' which seemed like a very nice idea. Also keep an eye out for the carved dragon which I gather was created by chainsaw artists. I saw a map which suggested there may be areas for cattle grazing, but I didn't see any on the day. I did, however, see some of the resident swans.

If you are in a place within the field where you are being lapped (approx 35 minutes plus), please watch out at the very end of your first lap because as you are keeping to the right-hand-side of the path you will need to make a left hand turn to start your second lap. However the participants who are lapping you will probably be overtaking on the left, so just keep an eye out for each other. At the end of the second lap the course heads back down the meandering path back towards the leisure centre where the start line is now the finish line. You will find a bank of volunteers lined up right after the finish line, ready to scan your parkrun barcode and finish token.

finish and barcode scanning

I recorded the route using my Garmin and you can view the data on my Strava account. I also used the Relive app to create a fly-by video which can be viewed on YouTube. The results for event 20 were published a short while later and 256 people had taken part. This is pretty much on-par with the expected turn out, but lower than the current official average of around 300. If visiting keep an eye out for cancellations at the other local parkrun events (especially Frimley Lodge and Rushmoor) as this may cause attendance numbers to rise quite a bit.

As the event finishes right outside the leisure centre, it is the perfect place to grab some post-parkrun refreshments. I have to admit I got a bit carried away chatting and totally forgot to go in to check the menu. We had an absolutely brilliant time at the event - it was made even more special due to the number of fellow parkrun tourists (I want to try to list all the names but I'll miss someone and then feel bad) who had turned out for Rosemary Egbe's 400th different event (she's only the 9th person worldwide to reach this number - congratulations!).

me with kathy brown, jon webb and the rest of the tourists

A quick mention to Kathy Brown who I was chatting to post-event. Straight after leaving I realised that I should have thanked her in person for awarding me the cow pin badge (a variation on the Cow Cowl) about five years ago, which was for services to parkrun tourism (for the blogging). Also a quick mention to Mark Pinney who films all the parkrun courses he visits with his GoPro camera. The videos can be found on YouTube on his channel markrun. (the direct link to his Edenbrook Country parkrun video to follow once it has been published).

The run director, Jon Webb, had also given me a special mention during the run briefing which included some extremely kind words regarding the blog and even put up a sign of recommendation. I also found out that eventually the start area may be moved to a wider spot which will of course help with the congestion at the start.

This was one of those days where everything just worked out perfectly and I'm so glad we made the effort to visit. Thank you to all the volunteers that made the event possible.

Related links:

My Strava data (3 September 2022 / event 20)
The Relive course fly-by video (3 September / event 20)

Monday, 29 August 2022

Wollaton Hall parkrun

Nottingham is a unitary authority that sits within the ceremonial county of Nottinghamshire, it was granted city status in 1897 as part of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The early settlement was recorded in the Domesday book as Snotengaham. It had also been recorded with slight variations such as Snottengaham and Snodengaham, but around the city you'll hear and see references to 'Snotta Inga Ham'. The settlement was home to an Anglo-Saxon tribe and the name essentially means the village belonging to Snotta, with 'Snotta' being the chieftain.


The area was once known as Tigguo Cobauc which translates into 'place of caves' or 'place of cavy dwellings'. This relates to the vast number of man-made caves dug into the sandstone on which Nottingham sits. The earliest were thought to have been dug in the seventh century but new additions continued to be added for another 1,000 years. Over 850 caves have been recorded and they would have provided homes and workplaces for many people when they were active. The subterranean world contained beer/wine cellars, malt kilns, dungeons, a skittles/bowling alley, and Britain's only-known underground tannery. They were later used as air raid shelters during the Second World War.

In 1068 Nottingham Castle was founded on the orders of William the Conqueror. It was built on a promontory known as castle rock. The first iteration of it was a wooden structure but this was upgraded to stone about a hundred years later. It served as a royal residence for many years, and was the place where, in 1642, King Charles I raised his standard and declared war on Parliament thereby starting the English Civil War. The castle was destroyed after the Civil War to prevent it from falling back into the hands of the royalists. The site eventually became home to a ducal mansion which was also destroyed, but it has since been rebuilt and is now the Nottingham Castle Museum.

wollaton hall and deer park

Nottingham is of course heavily linked to the legend of Robin Hood, and you'll find links to him all across the town and in the nearby Sherwood Forest (I'll save the detailed writing about Robin Hood for when I visit the forest). Over the years Nottingham's main industries have been wool, brewing, glass making, and arrow making. In later years Nottingham became known for its world famous lace industry, John & Player tobacco and cigarettes, and for being the birthplace of the Raleigh bicycle company which took its name from the street on which the company was founded.

We visited Nottingham on the last weekend in August 2022 and spent some time exploring the city. We visited the City of Caves where we found out all about their history including stories about Gong Farmers, and Ned Ludd ('Luddites'). We found the Old Market Square which is one of the largest paved public squares in the UK, the square is overlooked by the stunning Nottingham Council House which has a clock and the UK's 6th heaviest bell (Little John) within its dome. Guarding the building are two art-deco lions called Agamemnon and Menelaus. Local people are known to use the phrase 'meet you by the lions' and this usually refers to the left lion (Agamemnon). We also visited a few old churches and saw the former lace market buildings.

wollaton hall

One of Nottingham's suburbs is Wollaton and this is where we spent the whole Saturday. Wollaton is a historic village to the west of the city centre. Although Nottingham itself does not have any strong links to the Romans, some remains of Roman crematoria and kilns, as well as Roman coins, have been found in Wollaton. It became incorporated into the city of Nottingham in 1933 but still retains its historic character. It is said to be one of Nottingham's most-popular places to live. The suburb also contains Wollaton Hall and Wollaton Park.

Wollaton Hall is a Grade I listed Elizabethan country house which sits atop the highest point of the 500 acre Wollaton Park. It was built between 1580 and 1588 for English industrialist and owner of coal mines, Sir Francis Willoughby. It is said that he specifically wanted to impress Queen Elizabeth in the hope that she would want to visit and stay as his guest (I don't think she did). The house was passed down through the generations of the Willoughby family. Ultimately the noise and pollution from the industrial Nottingham meant the appeal of living at Wollaton diminished and the house was let to tenants towards the end of the 19th century. In 1925 the hall was sold to Nottingham Council and opened as Nottingham's Natural History Museum the following year.

parkrun briefings and start

Wollaton Park has for the last 700 years been home to Red Deer and Fallow Deer. The estate was enclosed at the beginning of the 19th century with a red brick perimeter wall which runs for 7 miles. The grounds have been used for many purposes over the years including music concerts and festivals, and the 1985 and 1989 World Rally Championships were held here. The park and hall have also been used as a filming location on multiple occasions, however the most famous of these was when the hall became Wayne Manor in the 2012 film Batman: The Dark Knight Rises. (check out this video to see all the scenes featuring the mansion). On the subject of Batman, just to the south of Nottingham is a village called Gotham.

We visited Wollaton Hall and Deer Park on Saturday 27 August 2022 to visit the National History Museum for a special exhibition (more about that later) and, as we happened to be there, took part in Wollaton Hall parkrun which has been an active event since February 2020. We had spent two nights staying in the Nottingham Marina Premier Inn and checked-out of the hotel that morning before driving over to the park. The parkrun meeting point and car parking facilities are at the northern end of the park and can be accessed from Wollaton Road. There is a fee of £3 for up to two hours or £5 for the whole day. The preferred payment method is by using the RingGo app, but you can also pay by phone 'or in shops or cafes'. Please note: The car park does not have a traditional payment machine and the earliest you can pay via the app is 8am which is the official opening time.

around the course (first kilometre or so)

If travelling by bicycle, Nottingham seemed to have quite a decent segregated bicycle network and I can report that there were some bicycle racks outside the children's playground, which is next to the car park. I saw an additional set of racks next to another car park which is close to the mansion. If using public transport I gather the two closest train stations are Beeston and the main Nottingham station - both over 3 miles away. There are apparently a couple of bus services that run from the centre of Nottingham to Wollaton Park. Once in the park the toilets can be found next to the playground on the side of the Wollaton 508 Cafe building - this is the official venue for the post-parkrun refreshments and natter. There also appeared to be additional toilets in another building adjacent to the car park.

The parkrun itself takes place over a one lap, gently undulating, lollipop style course but with a zig-zag-style stick. The surface underfoot is mostly tarmac, but also features sections on grass, gravel and trail. I was unsure which shoes to go for and opted for my trail shoes to be on the safe side. I was happy with this decision but I have quite a low threshold for moving to the trail option, so I'm sure many people would be happy in road shoes, especially when the conditions have been dry. There are also a few protruding tree roots to look out for. In the winter I would imagine a larger proportion of people would move to trail shoes. The course seemed perfectly fine for buggy runners.

around the course (second kilometre or so)

The start of the 5km walking/running event is adjacent to the car park and features a long straight opening stretch through an avenue of trees. This slowly climbs where it turns and joins Lime Tree Avenue which curves around past the front of the stunning Elizabethan mansion. The course then passes the adjacent 17th century stables block which is now home to the Nottingham Industrial Museum. The route heads gently downhill into the southern half of the park. Wollaton Park Lake acts as the lollipop of the course. It was created in around 1700 as a feature of the park and was designed to 'capture the atmosphere of the English countryside'.

Once the loop is complete, the rest of the course is just a matter of following the original paths all the way back to the beginning. The main focal point during the event is of course Wollaton Hall and during the event you'll get to see it from multiple viewpoints, all of which are fantastic in their own special way. The park itself is wonderfully scenic and well worth exploring. There is also a golf course nestled into the grounds.

around the course (the lake / halfway / heading back)

I mentioned the deer earlier on in the post, and it's very important to watch out for them and not approach them as they can be unpredictable. Key times of the year to be extra careful are the calving season (June and July) and then rutting season (September and October). Later after the parkrun I saw one of the rangers telling off some members of the public who were approaching the deer (trying to take photos), so just keep your distance. A nice feature of the course is that the final kilometre is 'mostly' downhill. 

With the 5km finished, the barcode scanners are found, as expected, on the grass adjacent to the finish and the post-event refreshment venue is the aforementioned Wollaton 508 Cafe. The cafe building is an old Second World War hut and the name is a reference to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment who camped in the park in 1944. During the Second World War the northern part of the park had a large number of these huts installed and they housed German prisoners of war. The cafe had a nice selection of cakes and drinks on offer, and the food options consisted of hot sausage rolls (meat and vegan) as well as pre-made sandwiches and rolls (meat, vegetarian and vegan options were available).

around the course / finish / cafe

The results for event number 60 were processed in the cafe and uploaded shortly after. 283 people had participated and this was slightly higher than the overall average which stands at 254.2 at time of writing. As always I had recorded the course data using my Garmin and you can view it on Strava if you would like to see the course in further detail. The GPS data was also used to create a fly-by video using the very handy Relive app on my phone.

All the locals and volunteers had been really friendly and welcoming to us, so that really made our morning very special. Special thanks to all the volunteers especially the run director who we had been chatting to throughout the morning and managed to get some great pictures of us in what has become one of parkrun's iconic photo spots!

titus: t-rex is king

The parkrun had finished, the results processed, the playground played in, the breakfast eaten, and it was now time for the main reason we were in Nottingham - The 'Titus: T-Rex is King' exhibition which was taking place in Nottingham's National History Museum (in Wollaton Hall itself). The main exhibit was the skeleton of Titus, a T-Rex discovered in Montana's Hell Creek Formation in 2014. It was excavated in 2018 and the exhibition ran from July 2021 until the end of August 2022 (we visited on its final weekend on display).

It was said to be the only T-Rex currently on display in the whole of Europe and also the first time a genuine T-Rex skeleton had been displayed in the UK for over a century. The skeleton was much larger than I had imagined (the photos don't do its size and overall presence justice) and I'm so glad we visited. It was incredible!

Related Links:

Monday, 15 August 2022

Dunstable Downs parkrun

The market town of Dunstable is in Bedfordshire and sits at the western end of the Luton/Dunstable urban area, which also includes the town of Houghton Regis. There are thought to have been settlements around this area as far back as the Bronze Age and was on the route of the Icknield Way, one of the oldest roads in Great Britain (possibly the oldest). In Roman times the area was on the route of Watling Street and a settlement formed here which they called Durocobrivis. It's not quite known where the modern-day name came from, but there are of course a few theories that exist.

To the south of the town lies the chalk escarpment called Dunstable Downs which is at the northern end of The Chiltern Hills. In 1965 The Chilterns were recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. A section of Dunstable Downs has been assigned as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The downs are home to many types of wildlife including some rare butterflies. The highest point of the downs is 243m and this means it claims the crown of the highest point in Bedfordshire

From a historical point of view, the northern-most section of the Downs is home to Medieval Rabbit Warrens and the Five Knolls Barrow Cemetery which, since 1950, has officially been a Scheduled monument and this status protects it from any unauthorised change.

This area features seven burial mounds which date back around 4,000 years. Late neolithic and Bronze Age burials were the earliest finds, but there were subsequent burials from the Roman era. During the 5th or 6th centuries gallows were erected here and the bodies of around 100 executees, some with their hands still tied behind their backs, were found buried in shallow graves on top of the prehistoric remains.

The area is managed by The National Trust under the full name of Dunstable Downs and Whipsnade Estate. We visited on 13 August 2022 to take part in Dunstable Downs parkrun which has been active since February 2019. The event usually attracts just under a hundred participants each week.

There is a modern visitor building and cafe located at the highest point of the downs and this is adjacent to the car park which has a flat fee of £3.50 and that covers for the entire day. The machines only accept cash and are coin-only, but you can also pay using the 'paybyphone' app. If you need to pay with a banknote or by card, a note on the machine said this is possible by paying at the visitor centre instead. If you are a National Trust member you can park for free (I understand you have to scan the QR code on your National Trust membership card at the machine).

The closest train stations seem to be down in the main Luton/Dunstable urban area and the nearest is over 5 miles away. You may be able to alight at Luton and use a combination of buses to get closer to Dunstable Downs, but from my limited research you may still have over a mile uphill to walk when you alight the second bus.

A train-bicycle combo may work fairly well and upon arrival there are some bicycle racks just outside the visitor centre building. There are toilets on-site and although they have an official opening time of 10am, they should be open before parkrun starts on a Saturday (on the day we visited they were certainly open before 8.30am).

The main parkrun meeting point is on the grass outside the visitor centre, but before worrying about that you will probably want to take in the stunning view to the west where you can see into the neighbouring county of Buckinghamshire. Once the view has been thoroughly absorbed attention can return to the parkrun.

The course here is off-road and the event takes place over what is essentially a single lap course. Underfoot you will find mostly grass, but also some sections of dirt track. We visited during the very dry summer so the ground was firm - even though I could have gotten away with road shoes, I wore my trail shoes and was happy with that choice. In the winter the course will be a different beast and I'd say trail shoes are essential. The briefings, start and finish are all in the same spot outside the visitor centre.

The route initially heads in a northerly direction past the beacon which I understand was lit for the Queen's jubilee celebrations in 2012 and again in 2022. It then loops around the main open grass area outside the cafe and it's not long before you realise that this is not a totally flat course.

This opening loop features a lovely slight downhill, but as we all know, 'what goes down, must come up' and that first incline kicks in at around 400 metres into the course. There is of course that stunning view to take the mind off of such inclines, you may even spot some gliders from the London Gliding Club lined up in one of the fields below. If you are luckier you may spot one or two in the air.

The course now heads south and passes along the edges of fields, through countless gates and even joins the Icknield Way Trail for a couple of short stretches. I remember spotting one section with some heavily protruding tree routes but apart from that the surface underfoot was bumpy but not particularly hazardous. 

As I've mentioned the terrain it might be a good time to cover to deal regarding buggy running - the official advice is to contact the team in advance of visiting if you intend to use a buggy. My thoughts are that it's not really too bad if conditions are good and you are comfortable with undulating off-road buggy running. It may be a different story in the winter, so stick to the advice and contact the team in advance. Also another important point is that dogs are not permitted to take part at this venue.

The course generally rises and falls as the 5k progresses and these undulations are largely on the gentle side. There are plenty of marshals posted at all the important points around the course which is also extremely well marked with signage. In fact the signage and marshals were so good that you'd have to put an extra special effort in to get lost.  The far end of the course features a full loop of a field and at this point the course is only a stone's throw away from the famous Whipsnade Zoo, which at 600 acres is one of the largest in the UK. The zoo opened in 1931 and at the same time work began on a 147-metre-long chalk hill figure of a lion known as the 'Whipsnade White Lion'. It was finished in 1933.

The return journey consists of further grass paths leading around fields until eventually rejoining the Icknield Way Trail path where the outgoing route is retraced back towards the cafe. Up until now I haven't mentioned the rusty brown coloured item sitting on the downs. It looks like a sculpture, but it is in fact a wind catcher which is part of the ventilation system for the visitor centre - an underground pipe takes the fresh air into the building. Talking about wind, I imagine it can get pretty blowy up here at times.

The last 500 metres of the course is generally uphill - it's fairly gentle for most of it, but more noticeable at the very end. With the 5k completed, the barcode scanners can be found just after the finish line and of course the cafe with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating is immediately on-hand for some refreshments (although bear in mind that it doesn't officially open until 10am). The results were online a short while later.

I recorded the course with my Garmin and the GPS data can be found on Strava. I also created an accompanying Relive course fly-by video that can be viewed on YouTube. My lingering thoughts on the course are that it is very peaceful and scenic, but when you add the view into the equation this elevates it to a really special place. As parkrunners we should think ourselves incredibly lucky to be able to indulge our passion in such beautiful surroundings. It was actually a very special day as this was Dunstable Downs parkrun's 100th event which tied in nicely to our visit as my wife also celebrated her 100th run. So afterwards we got to enjoy some of the cakes that had been brought to help with their celebrations.

Once all the cake had been eaten we headed off to take a closer look at the burial mounds and continued to enjoy the stunning view. The freshly harvested hay fields below the downs were looking especially stunning. It also happened to be the hottest parkrunday this year, so we got ourselves back to the cafe for some extra fluids before heading over to Ivinghoe Beacon where there is a view back across to Dunstable Downs and the Whipsnade White Lion can clearly be seen on the hillside. Our final action was to have some refreshing lollies while enjoying the final viewpoint of the day. We'd had a fantastic morning out and would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers that put the event on.

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Monday, 1 August 2022

Alton Water parkrun

In the county of Suffolk, just to the south of Ipswich is the Shotley Peninsula. It sits between the River Orwell and the River Stour and has a population of around 11,000 people. The peninsula is largely rural and is made up mostly of villages and ancient farmlands. The main crops grown here are wheat, barley, sugar beet and potatoes. The peninsula sits within the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which stretches along almost the entire Suffolk coastline and even into the neighbouring county of Essex.

In the late 1960's it was decided that the nearby town of Ipswich and surrounding areas, including the seaside town of Felixstowe, needed to expand their available supply of water to meet the growing demands of their residents and industries. A feasibility study took place and it was decided that the River Gipping would be able to provide the water and that a reservoir would be required to store it. The Tattingstone Valley within the Shotley Peninsula was chosen as the most suitable location. A dam was constructed between 1974 and 1978, and a 4 mile-long pipeline was used to transfer the water from river to reservoir.

The land now contained within the reservoir was part of the Alton Hall estate and had mostly been used for farming. The centre of the estate, Alton Hall, was unfortunately placed and became lost to the new development. It was a 17th century building which, depending on what you read, was either demolished before the land was flooded or submerged. Another building, Alton Mill, was dismantled and reassembled at the Museum of East Anglian Life, in Stowmarket. It is still standing and can be visited, but the attraction is now called the Food Museum. The Alton Hall name survived when the new reservoir was given the name Alton Water.

The village of Tattingstone was cut in half by the reservoir and the remaining sections are now linked by the 1970's-built concrete Lemons Hill Bridge. Tattingstone also contains a peculiar building known as Tattingstone Wonder. It initially looks like a church, but is in fact a short row of cottages with a flint facade and an imitation church tower added. The story is that the local squire did not like the view from his residence, Tattingstone Place, and had it constructed to improve his view. If you look at the building from the rear you can clearly see that the tower is a folly. In total the flooding of the valley resulted in the village losing around 20 homes.

Alton Water was officially opened on 10 July 1987 by HRH The Princess Royal. Covering 400 acres it is the largest reservoir in Suffolk, the pumping and treatment elements can process up to 10 million gallons of water per day. The southern end of the reservoir contains the main visitor hub and also home to Alton Watersports Centre which offers all sorts of water-based activities. There is also a mini-golf course, a playground, cafe, toilets and cycle hire. On 6 November 2021 the area also became home to its very own free, weekly, timed 5k event called Alton Water parkrun.

We visited on 30 July 2022 and parked in the main visitor car park just next to the village of Stutton. The car park operates on a barrier system which also has ANPR readers to record the number plate. A ticket is collected at the barrier upon entry and payment is made just before exiting. For non-parkrunning visitors this is via the machine next to the toilets, but there is a special arrangement in place for parkrunners where you simply take the ticket into the cafe and let them know that you were here for parkrun. There will be a flat £1 charge and a replacement exit ticket will be given. This one is used to open the barrier upon exit. If arriving by bicycle there is, what I believe to be a cycle rack, outside the cafe.

Travel by other means seems tricky. The closest train stations are Manningtree which is around 5 miles away or Ipswich which is over 7 miles. The onward travel from these places would involve the number 92 bus which runs between both stations, passing Alton Water on the way. Alighting at Manningtree would mean getting the 7.34am bus from the station. Miss it and you've blown it. If alighting at Ipswich, again the number 92 bus is the route that goes past Alton Water, but I don't think it runs early enough to complete the onward journey in time. Obviously, do your own research on this if considering travelling this way just in case I've found incorrect information or if it changes.

Once onsite, the toilets can be found just next to the cafe adjacent to the main car park. They were already open when we arrived at 8.15am. The main meeting point for the parkrun can be found just across the road next to the lake - just follow the 'To The Start' sign. As an added option for arrival at this event, the Alton Water Campsite is right next to the parkrun meeting area so if you have the appropriate camping equipment you could sleep just metres away from the event HQ. The meeting point is actually at the finish line and the start is just a bit further onwards and around a corner.

The course you'll find here is of the off-road variety with underfoot surfaces being a mix of a gravelly path, sometimes with larger loose stones, a little bit of tarmac and the rest on dirt paths and grass. For shoe choice, I decided to go with my regular road shoes, but even though it was bone dry I think trail shoes would have been the better option. Not so much for grip, but I ended up with so much debris inside them that I almost had to stop mid-event to clear them out. Trail shoes seem to do a much better job at keeping this kind of issue at bay. If visiting in the winter or when it's wet, trail shoes would definitely be the way to go. It is two laps and the course profile can be best described as very gently undulating.

The start is a bit further on around a corner and this is where the briefing is held, followed by a quick count down and everyone heads off for a lovely run or walk around this very peaceful area of countryside. The first half of each lap is slightly inland where there are adjacent fields behind a high hedge, this would be fine on a normal day, but we had picked the exact day the farmer had decided to use the combine harvester to harvest some crops. This lead to quite a lot of dust and other debris being blown around in the air. I covered my mouth and nose with my v250 shirt to try to reduce the amount I would breath in, but I moved past it pretty quickly.

The course was very well marked out and the marshals were positioned in all the right places. In fact there is quite a complex network of paths here so good signage is essential, and I'm pleased to say that the team had this element covered down to the finest detail.

About halfway through the lap, the course starts to head back using paths that run, more or less, alongside the reservoir. This gives the second half of the course a slightly different feel and it's worth keeping an eye out for the view across the water where in the distance you can see the clock tower of the Royal Hospital School in nearby Holbrook.

For me the most exciting feature on the course are the Highland Cows which were brought in to help manage the grassland in a sustainable way. There was an information board onsite where I learned that the Highland Cow is one of the oldest registered cattle breeds in the world. They originated in Scotland in about the 6th century and their coats were mostly black rather than the red/ginger they are famous for. The story is that Queen Victoria commented that she preferred the red haired cattle and in an effort to please the Queen, they were then selectively bred this way. On the subject of wildlife, the area is home to some reptiles including the common lizard and grass snake.

There are plenty of uneven surfaces during the lap so it's worth keeping that in mind. It may offer a little more of a challenge for buggy runners, but most would have no trouble getting around. After following the lap around a second time, the finish section breaks off of the loop and the 5k finishes on the open grass area next to the camping ground.

Barcodes and finish tokens are of course scanned right next to the finish line. Once finished I made a special effort to go back onto the course to spend some extra time admiring the Highland Cows, and once that was done, headed over to the cafe where we had some light breakfast. We followed this up with some time in the playground and some ice cream before heading off home at about half-twelve.

I recorded the course using my Garmin and the GPS data can be found on Strava. The data was also used to create a Relive course fly-by video that can be viewed on YouTube.

The results were published very soon after the tail walker had crossed the line and 71 people had taken part in event number 38. This was very close to the official average, so if you visit you can expect an intimate experience with plenty of friendly locals in attendance and volunteering. We were made to feel very welcome, so a huge thanks to all of the volunteers and other locals that spent some time chatting to us.

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